They say you should write what you know. Many writers seem to interpret this as only writing about things they have experienced, which would be very limiting. Me? I’d never have written about a midair conflict between a Roc and a bush plane, or the cerebral battle between an old woman and a relentless alien foe, or… What I do is take things I have observed, or gone through myself, and weave those into tales that are set in other worlds, on other planets, but told about people (no matter their shape or color) very much like ourselves. Write what you know ought to be interpreted in a way to spin the certainties of life into new stories that come to life in reader’s minds with their elements of shared humanity.
I’m writing this because I had the dubious pleasure of acquiring a new experience last week. We’re moving, which I have done before many time, so it’s an old familiar pain. I’ve been working seven days a week and flirting with exhaustion, which is something I’ve written about in the past (title story), it’s been so much a part of my life for so many years. I had a moment where I contemplated what life would be like if I were blind. As the First Reader and I discussed later, once I was home, and all was well again, it would be very difficult to adjust to that loss. Losing a whole sense is not something I’ve ever done – even though I am legally blind without my glasses! – and there were some long moments sitting on a hospital bed waiting for the doctor. It would turn my whole life on it’s ear, and all I could think about sitting there was having to give up reading.
It only takes a second, and life changes. Everything is all upsot, and life goes on a different path. These junctions in life – the road not traveled, and the road taken because it was the only choice at the time – make for good stories. Living through them is much less fun. For one thing, you might not know it’s happening at the time. There’s a splash, and you wash out your burning eyes. Later, the eyes are still burning, so you ask for some saline thinking the rush of water irritated them, and suddenly it’s a three ring circus. Sent to urgent care, you obediently depart, insisting that you’re fine, it’s fine! only to arrive there, have them look at you in horror when you explain what happened, and they send you to the emergency room. This is where our character suddenly realizes that maybe everything isn’t fine, because their eyes are still burning and it’s been four hours. And because the doctor asks with concern ‘who drove you? You drove yourself?’ and you insist you’re safe to drive… Off to the ER and again they whisk you right back while skimming the SDS you were helpfully carrying while asking a lot of questions. That’s when our character gets the spiel from the ER doc about necrosis and erosion damage that can happen over time and… Suddenly all is not fine. Also, I can now write with authority about having pH strips shoved in one’s eyes, and about the dye they use to diagnose damage to the eyeball. 10/10 will not do again.
As an author, I can take this one of two ways, here. I can spin a tale of what happens afterward. From the nonchalant worker who insists it’s not a big deal, to a life-changing consequence. Or I can take it the path I have walked, to no long-term damage and just having to endure goop in the eyes three times a day. I’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed again in a few days, but it will be a while before I take my sight for granted again. Right afterward I wanted to take the camera and go look at flowers, but I was goopy. So that will have to wait. Spinning a tale, it’s a good place to have our character change, solemn with the weight of what could have been. Me? Well, probably not. I carried on with life. Which might be something to put in a story, too. How sometimes you gather yourself up, joke with the ER doc until you get her to crack a smile and make the nurses laugh. Tell her to go to the code, that it’s more important in the context of things.
Write what you know. Even if that’s something stark, that ends in something joyful. And enjoy a sunset sometime soon, because eyes are fragile. Life is fragile. Embrace it, and write about it, while you can.